Design & Development

What Are “Tags” And What Is “Tagging?”

Since around 2004, content tagging has become more and more common due to social networking, photography sharing and bookmarking sites. Tagging is known by a few different names, such as content tagging, collaborative tagging, social tagging and even the scientific-sounding “folksonomy.” In general tagging can be defined as the practice of creating and managing labels (or “tags”) that categorize content using simple keywords.

The issue with content tagging is, like most things on the Internet, there are many different names for it and even more implementations of the practice, which can lead to confusion. In my opinion, content tagging can be broken into two types of tagging schemes, regardless of the exact type of implementation – public tagging and publisher tagging. I’m making the problem worse by arbitrarily making up some new terms, but the goal is to explain content tagging in broad terms and expose how ecommerce business owners can use tagging to their advantage.

The first type of tagging, which I am calling public tagging, creates a situation where visitors to a site can add and manage their own tags for content. In contrast to traditional categorizing and other indexing techniques, public tagging allows visitors to freely choose the keywords that describe content, which means that the consumers of the content are the ones that determine its relevance. A good example of public tagging can be found at some of the social bookmarking sites that have made tagging so popular, such as,, and

In a social bookmarking example, users are able to submit links to online content. When the link is submitted, the user is given the opportunity to associate tags, or a series of keywords, with their submission. Once tagged, other users can then search using these tags to find online content that has been deemed relevant by Internet users, rather than declared relevant by a publisher. This is the true power of tagging, in that it creates another vector for searching and organizing relevant content that is dynamic in nature, and more accurately reflects the opinions of Internet users.

Another type of tagging, which I am calling “publisher tagging,” is similar except the creator (or “publisher”) of the content is the one that places the tags. Rather than allowing users to freely create and manage tags, the publisher may choose to use tagging to make searching for content easier. As opposed to a social bookmarking site, which simply links to other content on the Internet, the actual content providers often find it more useful to tag their content so users can find relevant content more easily. A great example of this is the photo-sharing site Flickr, which allows its users to post and share photos. The person that is sharing the photos can “tag” each one with a series of keywords, and the result is that Flickr users can search for photos based on the tags from the publisher.

So why is any of this useful? For the ecommerce business owner, public tagging and social bookmarking sites may not offer much in the way of product marketing. However, if you publish articles in your trade, or offer any kind of content that is useful to your customers, you should consider submitting that content to as many social bookmarking sites as you can. Be aware, however, that most social bookmarking sites have very refined conditions of use, and submitting product pages or blatantly commercial content will often not be tolerated.

More relevant to an ecommerce business owner, and something that is missing from most ecommerce platforms and online stores, is the ability for a publisher to tag their content. As an example, let’s say that you have an online store that sells a wide variety of products. Typically products will be assigned to categories, and will also be searchable via keywords. Now imagine being able to tag each product on your site with two or three relevant keywords that can then be used as another vector for cross-referencing products. When a customer is viewing one product, they could click on one of its tags to see a list of other products with the same tag.

In addition to customers being able to find related products more easily, using tags sets a website up to take advantage of the search engine benefits of tagging, such as tag clouds, which are visual representations of tags that are popular on a given site. A tag cloud will typically be a list of links that are visually formatted to convey their popularity. To a search engine, this cloud is full of keyword rich links to relevant content deeper in a site. As mentioned before, each piece of tagged content should have links so users can find other content related to it by tags, and search engines really like this.

In general, tagging is relatively new, but has already proven itself as an effective tool for creating rich relationships between content on the Internet. Although it is still mostly relegated to social networking and bookmarking sites, content tagging has potential for ecommerce websites based on the idea of helping customers to find related products. Currently, only a few, if any, shopping cart solutions offer an effective use of tagging, but to echo Practical eCommerce contributor Stephan Spencer’s sentiments from a recent article, it should be in the development queue for every ecommerce platform, because tags and tagging is here to stay.

Brian Getting
Brian Getting
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